In season three, ‘Mrs. Maisel’ is still mostly marvelous

January 17, 2020

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” an Emmy-award-winning show, debuted its third season by the end of 2019. While the show still delivered on its trademark features such as witty, fast paced dialogue, dazzling performances and an alluring sense of the ’50s and ’60s, this season the show seemed to not run as tight a ship. There was a lot going on, between Midge (Rachel Brosnahan), the titular character, Susie (Alex Borstein), her manager, and Midge’s family. Oh, and Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). For someone who has not seen the show in a long while, it might have been hard to follow. 

Without a recap, we know Midge is on tour now, but other non-central characters may have needed a refresher. For example, Midge’s sister-in-law, Astrid, who is mentioned a few times in the last two seasons comes back for the birth of her new son, but I had completely forgotten Midge even had a sister. Putting this aside—and say you had recently watched season two—you may notice the shift in focus, the longer musical performances and more haphazard dynamic between characters. The acting is still phenomenal, and the cinematography is still full of incredibly beautiful scenes of wide angles and careful zooms, which are almost distractingly mesmerizing—to the extent it makes you forget that maybe not everything really ties up by the end of the season. The overall sequential plot seems to be sidestepped in the first four episodes where Midge is on tour and her parents move in with her in-laws until the second half of the season where more “ahh” moments are to be had by the audience, and yet question marks remain loosely in the air. 

One of these question marks is how the show made the ’60s look like a dream that people of all races can be a part of—it does seem to want to make an idealized version of the era that lets us see what it might be like if everyone did get along this way. In this season, we see more rooms filled with people of color: Joel’s dealings with underground Chinese gambling in Chinatown, and Midge’s experience with the black community introduced to her by Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) offer a view into what some racial minorities were doing during this era. This type of cinematic reclamation curtly avoids some of the most poignant aspects of the era such as classism and racism. This can be seen as problematic, or perhaps alternatively can give poetic justice for some non-whites. Joel’s romantic interest Mei, a Chinese woman he meets in Chinatown, alludes to the idea that Mei is just as beautiful and desirable as Midge—something I think all women of color can’t get enough of in white Hollywood. 

The performances throughout the season are phenomenal, and there are some truly remarkable moments that I could watch forever. Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub), is extremely entertaining to watch as his academic vigor translates to wanting to participate in the real world, a desire sparked by a night spent in jail with Lenny Bruce. His character speaks volumes about fascism, capitalism, activism and then Broadway theater—his enthusiasm never undermined. Speaking of Lenny Bruce, a scene with Midge and Lenny simply staring at each other as the camera lingers, is enough to raise goosebumps—the sexual tension glaring. Jane Lynch (who plays Sophie Lennon, a rival comedian) is a true gem in this season. She turns coal into diamonds with one liners like “Susie, my jello was disappointing,” which she says with the utmost sincerity and manages to not only keep a straight face but draw true reverence for both jello and her acting. Lynch’s character is a comedian by day and an insecure diva by night, and she’s played with immense integrity and dignity that makes her character’s ridiculous nature truly laughable—more than can be said about Midge’s stand up set. Her despicable nature is enormously amusing and I only wish we had a whole show on Sophie Lennon now, too.

Even though Midge is a likable main character, and the audiences at her shows are laughing, I’m not. Granted, the humor in the ’60s was much different, and yet sometimes, it feels as though her theatrics and beauty overshadow her actual humor. I want to like Midge’s act because she’s so cute and fun and pretty and I’m rooting for her success—and yet maybe I can’t admit she’s not as funny as I’d like her to be. What I am afraid of saying about Midge is that she is not unlike an Instagram model’s page in sending a message that reads: “I’m not only effortlessly beautiful but I am also funny.” I struggle with the notion that Midge wouldn’t get the same attention she does if she wasn’t this beautiful. Nevertheless, isn’t the illusion of knowing everyone in the era thinks she’s funny good enough? I can’t objectively say if Midge is funny, but I assume Midge is funny on stage, and yet she’s funnier to me off stage, in moments where she accidentally gets remarried to her ex, for example, or her defiant attitude at a live radio job. 

Different aspects of feminism are the pillars of the show’s foundation and this season in particular highlights financial independence for women. This is the one aspect that genuinely struggles to be seen overtly, along with the women characters that struggle in its pursuance. By the end, I teared up at the series of evident scenes of each of the women—at different stages—striving for their own careers. The penultimate episode of the show seems to sincerely tackle sexism by highlighting the absurdity of women’s work being compensated non-monetarily (like tampons and corn syrup) after helping create more sexist advertising. As a woman, some of this can be more disturbing than humorous. 

Despite the show’s beautiful cinematography, impressive performances and array of societal critiques, by the end it seems underwhelming and possesses some debatable plot holes. I yearned for a bigger climax instead of a bomb dropped in the last few minutes of the season, and more opportunities to think alongside the show. Season three of “Mrs. Maisel” on its own is worth a watch for its sheer beauty, but in comparison with its prior seasons the story is less tight, allowing for more airy, delightful scenes. Get lost in the beauty, have some laughs, season three is fan-serving and offers a glimpse into the sometimes not-so-marvelous ’60s.

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